FEAST: Lucky Lobster

By on January 3, 2017

Crustacean adventures for the curious foodie.

Lobsters are omens of strength and abundance, making this lobster bisque a befitting dish for the new year. (Photo left: Traci McClintic)

Lobsters are omens of strength and abundance, making this lobster bisque a befitting dish for the new year. (Photo left: Traci McClintic)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The holidays have come and gone and culinary folks across the country are untying their apron strings, wiping a tired arm across their brow and gazing with pride upon their now barren pantry shelves.

From Thanksgiving through the New Year, the holiday season is an exciting time for any foodie to spread her wings and indulge in laborious preparations for meals that might seem extravagant at other times of the year.

Some have cooked their way into 2017 with a finale of traditional fare. For those with Southern roots, cured ham and black-eyed peas were the order of the day on January 1, symbolizing luck and forward progress respectively. My mother, I’m sure, spent part of Sunday afternoon sautéing cabbage that would later be sprinkled with silver dollar coins, a spoonful of which gives the lucky gourmand an entire year’s worth of wealth and prosperity, if not a chipped tooth.

For me, there was a spoonful of soup that kept coming to mind, a smooth, rich lobster bisque I wanted to recreate and share with whoever was sitting at my table when Saint Sylvester’s Day arrived. While crustaceans are not traditional New Year’s fare, the lobster is an omen of strength, abundance and discovery, and who wouldn’t mind a little of each weaved into their personal almanac in the months to come?

Of course the bisque’s creation required the decimation of a certain innocent lobster, which gave me pause. But as I was perusing Food and Wine Magazine’s Culinary Zodiac for 2017, this caught my eye: “You are an extremist in the best possible way, so embrace that all or nothing nature…”  Thus the lobster’s fate was sealed. My horoscope went on to read, “You’re the sexiest of all the cooks out there…” This strengthened my resolve and I headed over to Albertsons, where Butcher Department supervisor Patrick Jensen was kind enough to assist me with the crime.

He fished out the day’s catch with a long handled rake as I barraged him with questions about the dozen or so animals nestled into the aquarium’s dark corners.

“I have orders for between 12 and 22 lobsters a day between Christmas and New Years,” he reported, “which is a lot when we normally sell only two or three.”

Albertsons’ Maine lobsters are a cold water American species procured from Seattle Fish Company. They arrive in boxes of 12, standing on their tails, claw-to-claw beneath layers of wet paper towels and blankets. Each one is flushed with a salt water solution to clean their shells and rehydrate their systems before being added to the store’s tank, where they live out the remainder of their days, waiting to be distributed to places like The Blue Lion and Amangani, or to customers willing to look past the $18.99/lb price tag in the name of culinary alchemy.

Leaving the grocer with my prize, boxed in its temporary cardboard shelter, I returned home nervous and excited. To have a lobster, live and completely at one’s mercy is a weighty responsibility, and it takes a bit of research and planning to properly harvest this delicacy. Under the right circumstances, lobsters can live at least 24 hours outside of the tank, but they must remain in a cool environment, such as a cardboard box lined with damp paper towels.  Submersion in tap water will drown these salt water creatures, rendering them inedible. They must be cooked from a living state to reduce the chances of food poisoning from toxins present in bacteria, various algae, and parasites, so buyers should be prepared well in advance of purchase.

When it comes to “harvesting,” various methods exist, but today the most common technique is to chill the lobster in the freezer or beneath ice for between 20 minutes and two hours before cooking. According to studies by the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, those planning to cook their lobsters in boiling water will benefit from the chilling method because it delays the onset of [reflex] activity about 30 seconds and reduces the duration of movement to about 20 seconds.

For the purpose of making bisque, it was necessary to sauté the shell, so my lobster was best utilized cleaved into halves and pieces. After reviewing my notes from culinary school, along with various YouTube videos on the subject, I was ready.

With the crustacean centered on the cutting board, I placed the tip of a very sharp chef’s knife at the midline along its back, about an inch behind the eyes, tapped the blade firmly down through the shell, and cut forward through the head, twisting off the tale, and removing the legs and underside of the tail with culinary sheers. With my misgivings finally put to rest, I forged ahead. Cheers to strength, discovery and abundance. Bring it on 2017. 

Recipe: Lobster Bisque

1.5-2 lbs lobster
½ leek
1 carrot
1 onion
2 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
¼ c. butter (melted)
¼ c. olive oil
6 thyme sprigs
4 parsley stalks
2 T tomato puree
½ c. brandy
3 c. dry white wine
4 L  seafood stock
½ c. rice flour
4 T butter
½ c. heavy cream
¼ c. brandy
Pinch of cayenne

Sauté minced garlic with butter and olive oil. Add mirepoix of leeks, carrots and onions. Add bay leaf, thyme, parsley and sauté to brown. Remove tail and claw meat from lobster, set aside.  Add shell pieces to mirepoix and continue to cook. Stir in tomato paste and caramelize slightly. Add brandy, flambé. Deglaze with white wine, reduce by half. Add warm seafood stock and reduce.  Skim off foam. Simmer for up to an hour. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, reserve liquid. Add shells to high-powered blender with a little bit of liquid and blend thoroughly. Pass through fine mesh strainer, place back in pot. Bring to a boil and continue to reduce. Dilute rice flour with a bit of cold water and add to boiling broth to simmer. Add cream and remaining 4 T butter.  Finish with 1/4 c. brandy and a pinch of cayenne.

Garnish with lobster meat that has been sautéed in butter and garlic. PJH

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